Obituary: Chris Richardson, radical historian and co-op activist

His work involved regional board roles at the Co-op Group, work with the UKSCS and research into early co-operators

Co-operators in the UK have been mourning Chris Richardson (1947-2020), a co-op activist and radical historian, who died last month.

Mr Richardson’s involvement in the movement included work with the UK Society for Co-operative Studies and roles in the retail movement – including time on the Central & Eastern Regional Board of the Co-op Group and, earlier, the Greater Nottingham Society.

He was a keen scholar, with a BA in history and politics from the University of Warwick, and his interest in the radical history of the Nottingham area saw him write the book City of Light: A City of Light: Socialism, Chartism and Co-operation – Nottingham 1844 – published by People’s Histreh (Nottingham Radical History Group) – following three years of research.

Richard Bickle, secretary of the UK Society for Co-operative Studies, said: “I first met Chris at the UKSCS Conference at Leicester University in 2001 – just after the sale of Stanford Hall. He had recently re-engaged with the co-op movement after a 10-year gap and had been elected to the Greater Nottingham Area Committee of the Co-op Group where he met many of the same people he had known in the society 20 years before.

“At a Co-op History Network gathering, at Bishopsgate Institute a few years ago, he told us that he had been born to a London Co-op Society mother and a South Suburban Society father. He was involved in co-op activities from childhood and, after graduating from university, joined the graduate development scheme with the Co-operative College at Stanford Hall.

“He was hired by the former Greater Nottingham Society as a research assistant to the chief executive, a role he continued until the early 1990s when it was clear to him that the society was making some grave strategic errors and he left for a job with Social Services ahead of the society’s collapse into the CWS. 

“For those with a long memory, the former GNCS Mansfield Supermarket was built on a site he found next to the now re-opened railway station in the town).

“In retirement he pursued his interest in co-op history with projects including a history of the Long Eaton Co-op Party and City of Light.”

City of Light was released in 2014 to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the first co-operative society in Nottingham set up on the principles of the Rochdale Pioneers, and collected stories of “courageous women and men seeking enlightenment from libraries that were theirs, from books and newspapers of their own choice, asserting the right to freedom of association. 

“As chartists, socialists, co-operators, they challenged the inhumanities of the Poor Law; contested charges of sedition, blasphemy and riot; confronted the forces of established religion; and championed new forms of democratic control”.

On the book’s release, Mr Richardson told Co-op News that he hoped it would inspire more research into co-operative history. “There is so much that is hidden or forgotten. Meticulous research in Owenite journals like the New Moral World, Co-operator, Co-op News, and local newspapers, can turn up astonishing tales that ought to be unearthed and recorded in forms accessible to people today and in the future,” he said. “If you have the time and the passion for our co-operative heritage, start by spending some time in your local library among the newspapers of the past, and discover the amazing stories of courage, risk taking, idealism, and determination of some of our co-operative ancestors, and proceed from there. Practically every town and village will turn up something of interest. Good luck with it!”

In another interview, he told Left Lion magazine the title comes from a quotation referring to the aspirations of the Rochdale Pioneers to build ‘a city of light on a hill for all to see, free from poverty, crime and meanness’. “It was an aspiration that is as relevant today as it was then,” he said.

In his later years he continued his work with the movement, offering support to young co-operators as they worked to set up the Nottingham Student Housing Cooperative.

He died after a period of treatment for prostate cancer and is survived by his husband, Richard McCance.

  • The version of this article in the December 2020 print edition of Co-op News wrongly attributed the publisher of City of Light. This has been corrected in this online version, stating the correct publisher as People’s Histreh. You can order a copy via links on this website

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